By the rivers of Babylon we sat
and wept when we remembered Zion.
It was the last concert ever to be held at Giants Stadium and the first time I would see Bruce Springsteen live. Situated between the exits 16E and 16W on Jersey’s own Thunder Road me and my friends arrived early to tailgate at the Meadowlands Stadium complex. We gobbled subs and washed them down with exotic bottled water imported from Long Island. We amused ourselves by watching the growing parade of Bruce fans cramming the highways that slowly inched toward entry gates granting license to plow through carousing crowds to search for a parking space. As a fiercely proud and life long resident of the Garden State this occasion was long overdue; but catching The Boss at the last concert at Giant Stadium made it extra special and worth the wait.
I grew up not far from the stadium. Fifty years ago I lived in a house on the rise on the western edge of the Meadowlands on Orient Way in Rutherford. As the crow flies it may be a mile and a half from the splash of asphalt I was now standing upon. As a child I remember being in awe at the vista that laid outside the window of my room. To a young lad the vast expanse of a seemingly endless grassland stretching beyond the bounds of my peripheral vision was my idea of a wild and untamed jungleland. I remember hearing tales of bottomless pits of hungry quicksand eagerly awaiting an opportunity to swallow unsuspecting little boys unfortunate enough to wander into the infinite expanse of tall reeds, thick grasses and towering bulrushes. Thinking back it was probably a story my parents told me to warn a young child off from the thought of a solo expedition to explore the intricate and dangerous swamp of rivers and rivulets weaving together the beautifully complex riparian ecosystem.
Half a century ago it was a common sight to see cars parked along the dirt roads that lined the tidal pools and estuaries of the Overpeck, Berry Creek and Hackensack River. The brackish waters of the Meadowlands sustained a rich biodiversity. It nourished interdependent communities of crabs, mussels, clams, fish and mammals that would grace Sunday afternoon dinner tables of intrepid trappers and fishermen that happily spent the day harvesting the bounty of the rich urban aquaculture. I would often imagine the sight of the ancient ones, engaging in the same activity, who centuries ago, situated on the banks of these same tributaries, pulling up nets bursting with fish, blessing the abundance the Great Spirit so richly conferred upon them as their rightful inheritance. As it says in the Old Testament “there is nothing new under the sun.”
My salami sub with mozzarella and roasted peppers was going down real good. Bite after bite it just tasted better and better but its good size and over apportionment of spicy meat and rich mootz was filling me up. I feared if I took one more bite it would burst my gut so I had to put it down, wrapped it back up and save the rest for tomorrows lunch.
To know when enough is enough is a virtue that we as a species are hard pressed to understand. If your full from a meal, saving a bit of the sandwich for tomorrows lunch is an example of moderation and a lesson in good stewardship. Nowhere on earth does the glaring examples of overindulgence, avarice, corruption and the pernicious wastefulness of corporate greed manifest itself in such a shocking manner as it does in the Meadowlands Complex. Two stadiums, a race track, an IZOD Center and a commercially bankrupt and aesthetic abomination called Xanadu forms the commercial polyglot known as the Meadowland Sports Complex. It is the finest work of commercial developers, financiers and local governments eager to cash in on ambivalent taxpayers and gullible local townsfolk believing billion dollar stadiums, built atop garbage laden landfills, financed with state bond issues will be sufficient to retain the loyalty of Jets, Giants, Nets and Devils. Desperate job seekers also hope to land a job as a beer vendor allowing them to walk up and down the windy steps of these sacred sports palaces to pay taxes to cover the loans on the stadiums.
When we entered the stadium complex looking for a place for our modest tailgate we wanted a space offering an easy exit from the incomprehensible mess of the parking lot. Unfortunately extracting ourselves and our fellow citizens from the unsustainable commercial, political and environmental mess created by the New Jersey Exposition and Sports Authority will be impossible for the many generations of Jerseyites that will follow in our footsteps. Our local governments have ceded stewardship responsibility of the Meadowlands to corporate developers. A corporate manager’s idea of stewardship is to extract a maximum amount of profit for shareholders in the shortest time frame possible. Corporations may come and go but the people of a community must remain. Sometimes left to pick up the pieces from the wreckage caused by ill advised development and are tasked to restore the delicate balance of nature with the complex ecosystem of stakeholders. Well considered balance is the cornerstone of effective stewardship and is essential to a community’s long term sustainability, wellness and growth.
The Meadowlands is dealing with the wreckage caused by EnCap. EnCap acted like a pernicious organized crime syndicate. It operated with the complicit support of local governments, business associations and sophisticated private equity investors that conspired to loot public treasuries, steal public lands, and secure licenses to dump toxic waste into the delicate Meadowlands ecosystem. The Meadowlands Sports Complex should be considered a white collar crime scene. Xanadu, yet another needless mall of America is an aesthetic abomination. It remains unoccupied and sits like a useless heap of garbage as another crass commercial scar on a once pristine riparian ecology. Where crabbers would gather on afternoons to harvest a natural bounty; the garish presence of Xanadu now presides like a festering scab, concealing a cancerous tumor, implanted by the toxic greed of EnCap, metastasizing in the gooey mush of the meadowlands good earth.
When they broke ground on the Sports Complex in the early 1970’s they discovered that highly toxic mercury levels polluted the water and earth in wide swaths of the development zone. The pollution was the remnants of a long departed manufacturer. The remedy was to encase the mercury in a plastic sheet. The mercury poisoning forever altered the delicate ecology of the meadowlands leading one to believe that this would make current developers and planners more sensitive to the ecological impact of development. But the anti regulatory mindset that has pervaded government and business partnerships has opened the door for environmental assaults as exemplified in this most recent example by EnCap.
As show time approached, the parking lot was growing more crowed. The growing party of revelers spread out their tables, coolers and barbecues to celebrate the momentous event. As the smoke from the fires rose into the air I recalled a vivid vision from my youth. One evening as I peered out my window, I witnessed the night sky frame a line of fire extending to the outer reaches of my vision. The conflagration consumed the reeds and tall grasses of the meadowlands. The flaming horizon was an electric line of agitated orange that reached ever upward. The fire danced against the ghostly backdrop of the lighted Manhattan skyline. The combustible apparition of angry flames appeared to threaten the looming silver skyscrapers lining The Avenue of the America’s.
The image of that fire will always haunt me. It heralded the drastic turn in the nature of the meadowlands. The fires were clearing space for the industrial parks, land fills and new commercial enterprises desperately needed for the rapidly expanding American economy. The waterways and aquaculture of the meadowlands were incompatible with the economic needs of our changing nation. Clean water, vibrant stocks of fish, rich flora, birds and mammals were something we willingly sacrificed at the alter of economic progress. Today during these austere times, when the gods of economic progress have seemingly abandoned us; we should make it a point to visit the empty malls and walk through the unoccupied office spaces purchased with the sacrifice of our natural environment to the fickle gods of economic progress.
Fire and water is an eternal dance of opposites that continuously engages a dynamic dialectic heralding a harbinger of change that always moves to restore a balance in the cycle of opposites. The fire of development that consumed the meadowlands of my youth may now be snuffed out by the waters of a changing time seeking to restore a sustainable balance for future generations. This will indeed please the Great Spirit. The Boss began the concert with a tune he wrote for this special occasion. It would be a good idea to take a wrecking ball to the unsightly Xanadu mistake as a first step in restoring the meadowlands to its true natural glory.
You Tube Video: Bruce Springsteen: Oh Mary Don’t You Weep No More
Risk: sustainability, environment, commerce
Artwork for this post is by Susan K. Arnold, By the Waters of Babylon.
This post is written in participation for Blog Action Day. Theme is water.
This summer Georgia and other southwestern states emerged from their prolonged drought by experiencing the nightmare of devastating floods. It was shocking to see how volatile and changeable the climate of that region was becoming. I counted my blessings that I lived in New Jersey because our moderate climate saved us from living through those types of extreme weather events.
During the summer my wife and I took a trip to Northern California. We hiked through the dwindling Redwood forests and scaled peaks in Lassen Volcano National Park. It’s beauty was at times overwhelming. One afternoon we took a dip in the pristine Yuba River but we had to cut that short due to the raging 49er fire that destroyed over 50 homes and businesses. We were happy to return home to New Jersey where the problems posed by wild fires and exceedingly dry climate are not that great a threat.
In addition to a temperate climate another benefit New Jersey offers its residents is the famous Jersey Tomato. Those with discerning pallets eagerly await the end of summer when farmers begin the harvest and bring to market the agricultural crown jewel of the Garden State, our beloved Jersey Tomato. It is big, juicy and luscious. It doesn’t require a sandwich or Hogi to sit upon. Its is great with a touch of basil leaf or sitting a top a slice of fresh mootz, that Jersey slang for mozzarella cheese. You can make an entire meal of it if you add some crusty Hoboken brick oven bread. Yes, Jersey at its culinary lip smacking best.
One Saturday morning my wife returned from Abma’s Farm in Wycoff with the devastating news that their would be no Jersey Tomatoes this year. Unusually excessive rainfall across the region had destroyed much of the crop. We would have to do without our much looked forward to annual treat. I was crushed. I started to do a bit of research into this degustibus disaster.
I discovered that Jersey farmers are coping with heavy crop losses after steady summer rains saturated fields, creating an environment ripe for overgrown weeds, rot and disease. The downpours damaged crops, from tomatoes, green bell peppers and corn, to barley, peaches and watermelon, decimating whole crops or severely reducing yield.
Wilfred Shamlin of The Courier Post reported on the economic impact the unusual weather had on some of the states farmers. His report is an important anecdotal record of the economic distress changing weather patterns can cause. The observations and quotes from farmers directly effected by this years extreme weather change is an important testimony on the risk of climate change and its impact on crop yields and economic solvency of small farmers agricultural businesses.
“The rains have just killed me this year,” said Tucker Gant, 51, a vegetable and fruit farmer in Elk, who estimates his total losses this year at nearly $220,000.
In Mullica Hill, Fred Grasso, 52, said late frost damaged his peaches and rot ran through his tomatoes, green bell peppers, zucchini and watermelon. “Nobody has ever seen rain as drastic as this year, even talking to old-time farmers,” said Grasso, a third-generation farmer who estimates losses so far at roughly $50,000.
“Weeds are a big issue, especially in a wet year. When it’s time to cultivate, you can’t and when you finally get in there and cultivate, and it rains day after day, weeds set in and reroot because of the moisture,” Grasso said. “Weeds steal nutrients from crops, grow tall and block out sunlight, and prevent plants from drying out after rainfall. And constant rain creates problem because the weeds grow faster and herbicides get washed away before they work.”
“It’s never been that bad as far as I can remember,” said Gant, pointing to water pooling in a field as he drove his pickup truck along a bumpy dirt trail toward 35 acres of barley overrun by tall weeds. “I have never seen water lay there more than two days. It should have been harvested, but you can’t harvest weeds taller than barley.” Blueberry and peaches thrived in the wet weather but the same disease responsible for the Irish potato famine attacked South Jersey’s tomato crops.
“Farmers’ yields will be down this year because a lot of fruit out there wasn’t able to be marketed,” said Michelle Casella, an agricultural agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension for Gloucester County. Gov. Jon S. Corzine has requested that 15 counties be declared disaster areas by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture after rain, hail, wind and even a tornado caused crop and property damage across the state. The designation would allow farmers with severe weather-related losses to apply for emergency low-interest loans.
This year’s hay crop was such poor quality that Gant marked down the price for landscapers, making 25 cents profit per bale rather than $1.50. Though struggling, Gant and Grasso are bent on persevering as operating costs continue to climb. Gant’s losses include $30,000 on bales of straw for mom-and-pop stores that order 15,000 bales and sell it as decoration during the holidays. He grew enough straw to make 10,000 bales but he had to buy the remaining 5,000 bales from a neighboring farmer. Crop losses have cut into profits that the Gant and the Grasso family normally would have invested back into the farm. “We have cut every corner we can without hurting the business itself,” Grasso said. “We’re at just about the limit where we can’t cut anymore. I’m trying to conserve.”
Gant said he has depleted his retirement savings and supplements his income by working three days a week repairing tractor-trailers. He often works 16-hour days on the farm. His wife also works full-time. He has trimmed unnecessary expenses, postponed farm equipment upgrades, and criticizes the federal government for coming to the aid of car dealers and other big businesses, but not farmers.
“Where’s the bailout for farmers?” Gant asked.
“When everything went into the toilet, my costs didn’t go down one bit,” Gant said.
Gant said he would need a $250,000 loan to bail out his farm.
Gant remains optimistic that he can ride out the recession. He’s planting seeds now so he can get barley, rye and wheat next spring.
“We’ll get there. It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “I believe in the Lord. I know He’s going to take care of me. That’s one reason I’m confident we can come back.”
As all farmers know, we reap what we sow. We trust that Mr. Gant’s optimism and faith will help to restore the good fortunes of farmers and the hungry citizens of New Jersey. We should also view this as an opportunity to begin the sowing the seeds to address the problems of climate change. Even in an area as blessed as New Jersey. Farmers livelihoods and a significant portion of the economy of New Jersey depends on the economic viability of small farmers. I also have a selfish reason to address the threat of climate change. I continue to crave the taste of the sweet fruits of our farmers yields and pray that the Jersey Tomato makes a reappearance on our dinner plates next summer.
This article extensively used the report of Mr. Wilford S. Shamlin at The Courier Post.
To Reach Wilford S. Shamlin at (856) 486-2475 or email@example.com
You Tube Video: Billie Holiday,Lets Call the Whole Thing Off
Risk; small businesses, farmers, agriculture, climate, Jersey Tomato
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